by Melanie Brunson
Last summer, we reported extensively on the approval by the World Intellectual Property Organization of a treaty aimed at improving access to books for people around the world who have visual impairments. By way of a very brief summary of the treaty’s provisions that is free from legalese, countries that ratify this treaty agree to insure that their copyright laws allow authorized organizations to share books that are produced in accessible formats for use by people with visual impairments across borders. As anyone who is familiar with the politics of treaty enforcement knows, arriving at agreement regarding the content of the treaty is only the first step. Before a treaty can take effect, the specified number of countries must both sign and ratify it. Since the Marrakech Treaty was approved last June, 64 nations have signed it, including both the European Union and the United States of America.
The U.S. signed the treaty last October. Since then, ACB and other blindness organizations in the U.S. have been working to set the stage for ratification by the Senate. Anyone who follows Senate deliberations on treaties knows that ratification can be a major undertaking, particularly when the treaties originate with the United Nations or one of its associated organizations. A case in point is the effort to gain Senate ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was rejected by the Senate in December 2012. Since efforts to obtain reconsideration of this treaty are still under way, no attempt has been made yet to obtain ratification of the Marrakech Treaty. However, our work to inform senators and their staffers about the book famine faced by people with visual impairments, even in the USA, and the potential remedies provided in the Marrakech treaty’s provisions are ongoing.
It is our hope that our community won’t forget about this important matter, or think that the work was completed in Marrakech. It has only just begun, and there is still plenty we can and must do if we want to preserve our right to read.